Alright, so first off, I’m going to get a lot of shit for this post – just want to say this up front and get it out of the way. So this is a disclaimer, I run the risk of marginalizing homosexuality and offending homophobes at the same time. Two for the price of one. Score! Skateboarding, in all of its decades of reinvention and reincarnation, has officially become “sexy.” While girls (and guys) may have always accepted the notion that male skaters – being the rebels without a cause that they naturally are – are attractive, “sexy skateboarding” – the kind that increases marketability threefold – is absolutely a thing now. Ask GQ, ask Playboy, ask Esquire Russia. All of which went out of their way to get a hold of skateboarders for spreads and interviews in 2013.
Eric Koston ollies for Esquire Russia
Not to say that physically attractive skaters are a new thing (remember the fan clubs for Christian Hosoi and Tony Alva’s heydays?), but the stock for good-looking, dapper pushers is in heavy demand, while their access to pop cultural lanes (modeling, brand ambassadorship, movie roles, music video cameos) is wider than ever. Because let’s be honest; social media and the Interwebs have turned many of us into very vain boys and girls, reactive to all sorts of visual stimulation. And for business, that means that there’s a lot to be had in terms of influence and capital. This flux and cross-section in popularity makes skaters, now more than ever, big time trendsetters.
Shirtless Hosoi for ’80s Jimmy Z ad
Now meet Dylan Rieder, single-handedly the most outstanding and nonchalant proliferator of “sexy skateboarding,” in my eyes. He’s collaborated with a vineyard on a limited edition wine, which means he’s classy. He co-owns an antique shop inside of London Frog silversmiths in New York City’s Lower East Side, which means he’s cultured and well-travelled. Oh, and he’s the handsome devil that accompanies A$AP Rocky and some gorgeous ladies in the new DKNY campaign, making him a stylish sex symbol. He also wears all-white get-ups pretty well, tucks his tank tops into his skate trousers and paints his nails black, which may make him a bit “suspect” in some opinions. But, he also happens to skate for HUF and be one of the baddest motherfuckers on four wheels, in this Rat’s opinion.
Dylan Rieder & A$AP Rocky for DKNY
And now for the Dylan Rieder paradox. While it’s human nature to disdain that which we don’t understand, readers should note that Dylan has been the subject of much-heated skate hate (note to self, need to coin this phrase). His general sense of style and avant-garde aesthetic pisses some people off. Why? Maybe to them it comes off as pretentious? Weird? Gay? Fair enough. Whatever the case, when shoe sponsor Gravis dropped his signature loafers a few years ago, cats were mad at the fact that said shoe looked like they were more fitting for David Bowie than a skateboarder (even though they all secretly coveted them, according to bromie and skate OG, Jason Dill). Dylan’s response? He didn’t really give too many fucks and proceeded to skate and even produce an amazing video part (see Gravis’ Dylan.) that featured him ripping like a manimal in the questionable footwear. And that’s sort of his gift, that fuck-what-you-think-I’m-still-gonna-rip-and-stay-gold-Pony-Boy kind of attitude that you’d be too hard-pressed to talk shit about, if you had any sense really.
Dylan Rieder’s ripper slippers
Gravis “dylan.” ad
And if for some wild reason, you do still find time to hate, Dylan’s got about 59k+ Instagram eyes and possibly more Tumblr sites dedicated to his godliness (Fuck Yeah Dylan Rieder) than Ryan Gosling. The point? Regardless of opinions, he’s a very sought out gentleman. And when you’re talked about so much by the boys, and still beloved by the ladies, there’s a certain level of clout that comes with the territory. Almost like that of a controversial artist or a polarizing icon of sorts, both of which are pretty hard-to-deny characteristics in Rieder’s personality. On the surface, the newfound artistic freedoms of influencers like Dylan Rieder can mean that the historically patriarchal (and heterosexual) nature of skateboarding – and all of the stigmas and stereotypes that come along with that – is now at a place where you no longer have to pertain to any particular “macho” format. In fact, one could argue that the further away from that, the more opportune and marketable your image is in this day and age. Granted, that’s kind of always been the point of true rebellion in cultures of defiance – being your truest self and definitely not some jock or poser motherfucker. Albeit, the lines do blur. Sadly, strange fashion and habits can be a bit much for the average person. Take hip hop, which I argue is a close cousin of skateboarding, for instance. As more and more of its “fans” aren’t necessarily the culture’s proliferators or practitioners themselves – thanks again to the Internet and social media – more of its “acceptable” themes and terms may be subject to change. So instead, as is the case with say an A$AP Rocky – a black rapper from Harlem – it isn’t a surprise that his biggest fans or admirers may be white girls from Paris. Or admiring black males from Paris, for that matter. Wait. Pause? No homo? Not necessarily. Because as folks like Rocky and Dylan openly partake in fashion, music, art and all of the general territories that come along with being an “artist,” they inherently draw controversy and polarity to the table. However, the fact that anyone questions their masculinity is far cry from the elephant in the room. New flash, yes, males are attracted to Rocky or Dylan because they are, at the end of the day, attractive male icons. No question there. The real issue is that hip hop, skateboarding, and all of the male-dominated derivatives of these cultures have predominantly operated under homophobic tendencies and now, we’re at a fork in the road about what’s acceptable and marketable. What’s most interesting to me is how Mr. Fuck Yeah (Dylan) has broken through the proverbial fourth wall, in that the dude is definitely aware of his infamy. So is fellow partner in crime and member of the tongue-in-cheek #TeamHandsome, Alex Olson. Not too unlike Dylan, Alex is a second generation ripper/playboy with skating abilities that have made him privy to some of the more elite aspects of the industry, from riding for Nike SB to being part of Girl Skateboards. Olson has also been the benefactor of OG, free-thinking peers-slash-mentors like Brian Anderson, who recently left Girl to start 3D Skateboards and bless the world with more original offshoots of his own creativity. He also happened to bless Alex with a book called “Fire Island,” about a progressive and thriving gay community in Long Island. That same book, according to a recent Jenkem Magazine interview, is a big inspiration for Olson’s current venture into his own rumored company. The plot thickens.
OG Brian Anderson (Photo – Ben Colen)
While the whole Jenkem interview may have been a grand trolling opportunity, when Olson was asked if his company would be “super gay,” Alex’s response was, “It’s not going to be super gay but it’s definitely gonna be like, the opposite of homophobic. Skating is such a male dominant thing, and you have to accept the fact that there has to be so many gay people in skating.” Thus verifying my hypothesis of skateboarding’s homophobic underbelly. Now I don’t know about you, but whether Alex Olson was being playful or not, the mere mention of homophobia, or any kind of alternative to anyone’s sexual preference is a huge deal for many. I know that the brother wasn’t necessarily making any claims about his own (that’s his business anyway), but he raises some really great points about the kind of outside-the-box thinking that self-appreciating (because of a long history of discrimination and marginalization) segments of the population can employ when freed and allowed to be themselves. Perhaps like Dylan being allowed to be as stylish and handsome as he pleases.
Bowtie Olson (Photo – William Strobeck)
Alex was also asked about skaters publicly addressing homosexuality and went on to say, “I think it’s necessary, man. It is one of those things that people need to know, it’s just gonna make you stronger and appeal to more people. This is bullshit, there are pro athletes that are coming out, but no skaters? Nothing bad is gonna happen, no one’s gonna not sponsor you, or drop you from their team because you’re gay. And if they do, that’s gonna be a huge fucking problem for them. It’s so stupid. It’s crazy to me that this industry is so fucking big, and not one person is publicly out.” I think what Alex is getting at is that if skaters aren’t open enough to accept their own sexuality (hidden or public) or the sexuality of others, then they probably aren’t very accepting of the very same dynamics that create new ideas and paths in skateboarding – something that’s become so stagnant and monkey-see-monkey-do in his critical scope. And what I’m saying is, yes, I’m with him. We absolutely need more homosexuality in skateboarding! Or at least some kind of great awakening in this grand Age of Aquarius, which all the mystics and pseudo-religions agree, is a time for unveiling. And it needs to start with #TeamHandsome. Like #TeamHandsome completely obliterating team #NoHomo. Bros need to let go of all of the homophobic (and secretly trapped in the closet) tendencies and embrace the fact that guys like Dylan Rieder and Alex Olson are talented, attractive, risk-taking dudes. Embrace it. Embrace them!
Unfortunately, idealism is one thing and history is another, as a 2011 piece for Huck magazine reveals. The thorough article not only interviews former Birdhouse Skateboards am, Tim Von Werne, about his thwarted opportunity to publicly come out to Skateboarder magazine, it also gathers the perspectives of skate intellectuals Ed Templeton (Toy Machine), Steve Olson (father of Alex Olson) and Patrick O’Dell (Epicly Later’d). Altogether, it paints a very different picture of industry support for homosexuality – or lack thereof. While Templeton is adamant about his willingness to back open skaters, O’Dell and he both conclude that the reasons behind why no one’s really comes forward about homosexuality in skateboarding are twofold – one being the sensitivity and inherent homophobia that the the industry fears from its target demographic of kids and teens, and two, the unwanted attention and pressures that then fall onto athletes. “Any gay skater who decided to come out as gay and be public with it would end up being ‘The Gay Skater.’ Everything he or she did after that would be seen through the lens of them being gay.” says Templeton.
Then there’s Tim Von Werne himself, the tragic hero of it all. When he was ready to disclose his sexuality to “the industry” way back in 1998, the business managers of Birdhouse pulled the piece and the controversial backlash of it snowballed into the end of his short-lived career. But what’s most lamenting is how Tim regrets his failure to challenge the decision, “Looking back, I should have pushed to get it printed. Tony [Hawk] wanted to do it and I think he was looking for me to push for it. It could have done a lot for other people,” he said to writer Patrick Welch.
A pensive Tim Von Werne (Photo – Nick Ballon)
Now, more than 15 years since skateboarding’s original opportunity to dispel the homophobic tendencies handed down by its forefathers and victims of a perpetually ignorant society, #TeamHandsome and its affiliates stand mightily at the crux of possible redemption. I mean, not that they can single-handedly change everything, but you’ve also got to rule in the fact that so many strides have been made in these post-modern times and the Internet’s power can very well be the tipping point. All popular cultures have shifted significantly. Apart from the advances in social equalities and tolerance, we also live in the age where music gets promoted and digitally distributed for free, marijuana’s burgeoning legality has become a digital beat for some publications, digital bit coins are worth more than paper money, and the Deep Web and the NSA are realer than Santa Clause. And what that’s saying is that tongue-in-cheek things like #TeamHandsome and tangible pioneers that step forward even further can very well be the viral excalibur sword that hacks open the industry’s closet. And just like that it may eventually be okay to show love to your fellow skate peer, it may also be okay to love or crush on him. You won’t have to be gay, but you can be, if you want. Contrary to popular belief, masculinity doesn’t begin and end with the alpha role. And being gay doesn’t mean being a fairy or less manly than anyone. Truth be told, I know openly gay fellas that’ll stomp the shit out of the most hot-headed or agro “heteros.” It’s more about accepting ourselves and others in all of our complex glory. It should be okay to take fashion risks, blur lines, have fun, be unapologetic about your unrestricted self. Even if just to make a statement or show solidarity. That’s really the true nature of skateboarding – why we commit to bending the laws of physics with something that most people consider a “toy” anyway. Maybe gender bending and ambiguity is a different kind of fight, but sometimes I feel like that’s more rebellious and punk than any mindless, macho, boys club, groupthink bullshit. By nature, skateboarders have always set out to defy society’s “norms,” the team sport, the jock mentality, the alpha complex. It doesn’t mean that we compromise our own strengths when we accept homosexuality, but it does mean that we don’t cower and let ourselves be defined by the homophobic status quo. In the end, I’m not asking for more men to necessarily “be” gay, as much as I’m asking for those that aren’t to still allow it to inspire them. It’s about allowing new ideas and ethics to influence your own, like what Alex Olson may have let the “Fire Island” book do to him and his perspective. Like what Dylan Rieder’s doing with his skateboarding, art, and general life. Like what Brian Anderson’s doing with 3D. It’s time to reassess, redefine. Skateboarding, it’s been long overdue, but change should come.